Assessing Government Performance through the Lens of Public Sector Workers

Published date01 November 2014
Date01 November 2014
806 Public Administration Review • November | December 2014
Michael Lipsky is Distinguished Senior
Fellow at Demos. He has taught political
science at the University of Wisconsin and,
for 21 years, at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. From 1991 to 2003, he
served as senior program off‌i cer at the Ford
Foundation. His publications include
in City Politics
(1970); the award-winning
Street-Level Bureaucracy
(1980, 2010); and
Nonprof‌i ts for Hire: The Welfare State in
the Age of Contracting
(1993, with Steven
Rathgeb Smith).
and beyond reach. Rather, they are those “friends
and neighbors” who work for local governments and
special local districts. Although critics of govern-
ment rail against excessive government involvement
in public life, the author shows that compared to
other countries, the United States ranks fairly low
in the proportion of public employees to the general
Of particular interest is his summary of f‌i ndings from
his own research on exemplary public agencies, such
as the National Park Service and the National Weather
Service. For a volume defending administrative capac-
ity in the United States, demonstrating that some
public agencies are truly successful is a useful compo-
nent of a persuasive argument.
ese and other observations add up to a spirited
defense of the capacity of American governments to
perform to reasonable expectations.  ey are not par-
ticularly revelatory conclusions, but they are presented
with clarity and passion for those who would like to
review the subject or introduce newcomers to the case
for bureaucracy.
In defending the performance of American govern-
ments, Goodsell sees himself as contributing to the
ongoing debate between those who consider them
instruments for solving collective problems and those
who believe that the public welfare is best served
when government plays only a limited role in society.
e author understands that disrespect for govern-
ment undermines the argument that society requires
expansive public policies to respond to citizens’
needs when individuals cannot act for or protect
Charles T. Goodsell, e New Case for Bureaucracy
(Los Angeles: Sage/CQ Press, 2014). 256 pp.
$47.00 (paper), ISBN: 9781452226309.
For more than 30 years, Charles Goodsell has
been tilting against the windmill of antigov-
ernment sentiment, of‌f ering arguments and
evidence that American government agencies work
reasonably well and are not the dysfunctional structures
associated with typical antibureaucratic sentiment. In
his 1983 book e Case for Bureaucracy and subse-
quent editions, he clarif‌i ed for more than a generation
of readers how the work of American governments is
accomplished, and he assembled the data that allow for
a fair assessment of their capacity and achievements.
In the book under review, e New Case for
Bureaucracy, he returns to the subject in an informal
volume in which he writes directly to his readers on
the challenges of taking on the subject. His mission:
to “transcend stereotypes and think concretely and
broadly about the agencies of administration that do
the work of government in this huge country” (1).
Goodsell is dedicated to showing that American
bureaucracies perform both complex and routine tasks
ef‌f‌i ciently and ef‌f ectively. He recounts the great breadth
and variety of American public agencies and notes that
they are typically divided into surprisingly small units—
hardly the “big government” entities of antigovernment
propaganda. He also points out that about half of their
employees work in the military or for defense agencies.
Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of the rest are not
distant operatives demonized by critics as “faceless”
Assessing Government Performance through the Lens
of Public Sector Workers
Sonia M. Ospina and Rogan Kersh, Editors
Michael Lipsky
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 6, pp. 806–808. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12298.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT